Background: A pandemic outbreak of H5N1 avian influenza is believed to coincide with large-scale panic. Even without an outbreak fear of infection may be widespread. Mass media coverage of the risks of a pandemic may lead to higher levels of fear.
Methods: An ecological study looked at data from 23 member states of the European Union and controlled for population size, level of education, age distribution and income and wealth.
Results: When the findings for Cyprus were excluded each additional hour of average TV viewing was associated with a 15.6% increase in the proportion of people worrying about the virus. TV viewing explained 52% of the variance.
Conclusion: Fear of a pandemic precedes any real pandemic and may have to be dealt with separately. Exposure to television is highly associated with worrying about the virus. This relationship merits further study.